Nihal Pekbeken – Going global

Nihal Pekbeken is Vice President of Global Marketing and Creative Services at Universal Networks International, one of the world’s premier entertainment networks. We caught up with her for a chat about her job and career so far.

Tell us about the job you’re doing now?

Leadership of the global central marketing team with responsibility for the strategic development of brand marketing and communication plans aligned to the UNI (Universal Networks International) business objectives. I have been tasked with the rebrand and management of portfolio of global channel brands and web initiatives as well as the global positioning and creative origination to promote channel content through integrated initiatives (promotions, merchandising, events, partnerships, digital etc.).

What is the most exciting aspect of your work?

I would say that the global nature of the role is what makes it exciting. For example, when we are looking to launch new content such as Rookie Blue and we are looking at creative communication campaigns, we have to have an understanding of how the creative will translate culturally. This goes beyond literal translation. It is a challenge trying to find routes that suit all markets so we have to establish how the communication can be varied both creatively and message-wise in order to work within each market. When you think about all the markets we deal with, it gives you an idea of the scale of the task.

Would your classmates from school be surprised at what you’re doing now?

I am in contact with a few school, college and university friends and I can honestly say they are not surprised at what I’m doing.  I have always been ambitious. They know I have high standards and demand quality of creative and service at all times, not only from my teams but also from the suppliers and business partners. The only thing that would surprise them is how much tougher I have become since school. That’s just life I’m afraid.

Was there a teacher who had a particularly strong influence on you and if so in what way?

My early years at Brunswick Park Primary School have been very influential in shaping my creativity. I had a few very good teachers – my music teacher Mrs Bromley was always great at encouraging us to do things differently and to push ourselves in music and dance.  It seems silly to think of that as an influence but I remember thinking at the time that anything was possible.  I still think that today.

What school subjects were you good at and have any been surprisingly helpful later on?

I was an all rounder as a student, meaning generally good at everything. My parents were very strict when it came to education and I didn’t want to embarrass myself with bad grades. The ones I was better at were art, English language and literature and music. However if you want to be successful in life you need to know how to make money so the subjects I disliked have actually been the most useful – maths, economics and business studies.

How did you decide what you wanted to do after school?

I don’t remember ever knowing what I really wanted to do with my life until after university. When I was a child I used to say I wanted to be a business woman as I thought it sounded like a pretty successful role. Clearly I didn’t know what it meant. Sometimes I get asked why I chose to do a PR degree – I guess at the time I was into creative writing and it had an element of that. But in all honesty, I was just 17, still living at home with my parents – so what did I know? There will be a lot of students stumbling into degrees the same way and there is nothing wrong with that because you soon understand what it is you want to do and it is never too late to change direction.

Did you take a gap year? Did it influence any decisions later in life?

I didn’t need to take a gap year. For me leaving home for the first time to go to university was kind of my gap year and an adventure in itself. Also I had a pretty adventurous life growing up as my parents loved travelling and we have family living abroad. My dad decided he wanted to take the whole family to Turkey by car in the early 80s. It took over a week to get there with six of us in an Opel Ascona which wouldn’t have been so bad if my dad hadn’t insisted on us sleeping in the car as well. I can’t begin to tell you how uncomfortable it was.  But now I’m grateful to him for giving us that experience as I think it gave me an appreciation of cultures which is a major part of my job.

If you went to university what was your university experience like?

University went by in a blink of an eye. The new found freedom away from my parents meant I became a bit of a social butterfly, initially with more emphasis on the social and less on studying in the first year. But that is part of the student experience and you soon realise that unless you work hard you aren’t going to graduate with anything decent. I settled down in the second year. My third year was spent in a placement at a project management agency in Chandlers Ford and gave me my first real taste of working life. I had summer jobs when at college but it’s not really the same as having to commit yourself to a 9-5 schedule every weekday for a year. It was a bit of a reality check and a good one at that. By the time I returned for my final year I was a little more mature in my thinking and outlook which helped me approach that dreaded dissertation. I look back now and realise how easy everything was compared to challenges at work.

What was the proudest moment of your life so far?

It’s hard to say. There are many career and personal highs I can mention.  I adopted a child a few years ago and I’m very proud of her.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?

I enjoy what I do so I would like to think that in 10 years time I’m still doing this but for my own business.

What advice would you give someone still at school who wants to do what you’re doing now?

If you want a career in marketing then a marketing qualification will get your foot on the ladder.  Your degree/qualification opens the door to a job but once you are in employment you need to focus on what is expected of you.  My advice is for graduates to remember that many senior managers have worked their way up from the bottom – some with degrees and some without.  Therefore a ‘can do’ attitude together with a willingness to learn is very attractive and will get you far.

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